It Comes at Night is incredibly manipulative in the way it reels you in, first assisting you in comfort and then, in the blink of an eye, taking you to the edge of insanity. The film is dark but not a horror film per se. It’s an on the edge of your seat thriller that pulls you in several directions at once; barely allowing you a moment to rest before tugging at again you again. Watching, you’re like the young woman in the opening scene of Jaws, being whipped about and then pulled into the depths of the unknown. The unknown in this instance is what comes at night, in the darkness, when you’re alone and everything around you is a potential threat.
This is a story about a family who has a home deep in the woods that is now their hideaway from whatever happened to the rest of the world. What happened is unidentified but it was toxic. Something made people who were exposed to ‘it’ violently ill. This plaque of sorts kills you rather quickly and those who figured it out and hoped they weren’t exposed ran away and either contaminated others with their infection or learned how to live with it. Paul and Sarah, their son Travis have learned how to cope and also protect themselves from being vulnerable. Sadly, as we learn in the opening scene of the film, this has come too late for her father Bud who is already covered in blisters, barely breathing and about to die. Paul, with Travis (who’s only seventeen), takes Bud to an open pit they dug. After putting him down like an animal, they throw his body in and burn his remains to help stop the spread of the mysterious disease.
A well lit and beautifully photographed, (complete with an eerily creepy yet gorgeous string instrument filled track) nightmare later, we awaken with Travis screaming that someone is in the house. By the way, this scene has one hell of a memorable jump scare. Anyway, the family, prepared for this kind of assault, finds that a young man has broken in and they surprise him, shove guns in his face, take him outside and tie him to a tree to teach him a lesson. They’re not kind to strangers. They live by rules that have kept them alive so far and this man has challenged those rules. Before long, we discover that he simply wants to bring his family there; to live somewhere out of danger. Sarah talks Paul into allowing this and though Paul is skeptical, he agrees. Travis enjoys the family being there and what ultimately started out as a thriller becomes sort of a drama in that Travis begins to resent his situation as well as his father.
It Comes at Night is aesthetically pleasing. The music is outstanding and lends to the intensity throughout the film. Tribal drumbeats explode so loudly from the speakers of one scene that it seems the vibration alone physically moves you. Director Shults (Krisha) uses this tactic each and every time anything exciting happens. It’s made better by the sheer skill in which he chooses to tell his story.
My final take is that a lot of what’s going on in the film you’ll see coming if you’ve been watching page-turners your whole life. I believe you’ll forgive this because of the imaginative nature with which these characters have derived. The film is a survival guide on steroids and an unbelievably heartbreaking look at what we could become, leaving you to wonder how you’d behave in the same situation. It’s a bit slow at times and there are a few moments that don’t quite add up but as I mentioned before, they’re nothing that will ruin the film for you. I’d like to warn you of one thing, however, if you have a weak heart! If Travis is on the screen, get yourself in defense mode.